Knockadoon Camp’s origins trace back to Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary), located on the opposite side of County Cork. It was there, in 1922, that Father Stephen Glendon, a Dominican from St Mary’s Dominican Priory in Cork City, initiated an Irish language summer camp exclusively for young men and boys. The camp operated in its original location for two years before relocating to Knockadoon in 1924. The decision to move was influenced by the camp’s desire to be closer to the sea. Being situated near the coast provided opportunities for various water-based activities and added to the overall appeal of the camp experience.
The camp in its original form was an adjunct to a confraternity for young men and boys in their late teens called the Angelic Warfare Sodality (a sodality essentially being a group of people who promise to pursue some good together within the Church). Fr. Stephen Glendon O.P. was the founder and first Director of the camp at Knockadoon. He was born Henry Stephen Glendon in Dundalk, Co. Louth, on May 13th 1866. He entered the Dominican order at Tallaght in 1887, and was ordained in Rome in 1892. After spending a few years in Lisbon, he arrived back in Dublin in 1894 and ministered at St. Saviour’s Church. He left Dublin in 1907, and served in Galway, Sligo and Tralee before being placed in Cork.
The original camp was setup to cater for young men and boys aged 12 years and over. The aim was to give attendees the experience of the outdoors and being close to nature. Attendees at the camp were asked to bring towels, a bathing costume, and soap. Hurls were allowed if the attendees wanted to bring them, as were musical instruments, and bicycles for which a store was available. The cost per person was 3s per day, and the minimum stay at the camp was 1 week. Through an arrangement between the camp and Great Southern Railways and Great Northern Railways, special concessions were available on tickets for campers, on issue of a voucher signed by the Director of the Camp. The nearest railway station was Killeagh, and each Saturday a charabanc (a horse-drawn, early form of a bus) would meet the train in Killeagh to collect campers, for which they were charged one shilling.
As you would expect of a Dominican run camp, promotion of the Catholic ethos was a key aim, and campers were expected to attend mass each morning at 08.30am in the oratory of the camp, as well as participating in the saying of the Holy Rosary daily. Confession was also available to campers.
Campers were given three meals a day in the dining hall, and porridge and milk was available to everyone each night before the regular Cèilidh. It is interesting to note that food wasn’t restricted at the camp – anyone wishing to have more than usually allocated, was allowed. At this time, all the campers slept in tents, each in their own bed. In bad weather, the campers slept in a large dormitory. There were also a limited number of timber bungalows used for sleeping.
‘Sanitary Arrangements‘ at the camp were described as ‘perfect‘ in camp literature. With the latrines ‘erected in a secluded corner on the edge of a cliff‘ and ‘flushed by the tide‘. Not surprising for the time, but this setup wouldn’t be described as ‘perfect‘ today!
Upon its relocation from Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh to Knockadoon, the camp underwent changes in its language program. The previously compulsory Irish language classes were eliminated, and instead, campers were encouraged to engage in conversation using the Irish language as much as possible during their time at the camp. Despite the removal of mandatory classes, fostering Irish culture and language continued to be a significant objective. Each night, a Cèilidh was held in the camp hall, or if weather permitted, an open-air Chuirm Cheoil around the camp fire. Attendees at the camp were also given the option to learn traditional Irish singing.
The main activities at the camp at this time were swimming, boating, hurling and football games, and picnics and excursions to local areas of interest such as Capel Island (with the help of local fishermen). While the aim of the camp was to provide a relaxed atmosphere, discipline was maintained, with early camp literature mentioning that ‘the right is reserved to send home any boy whose influence is deemed harmful‘.
Thousands of boys from all over Ireland attended the camp in the 1920s after its founding – over 400 in 1928 alone. The camp in the 1920s was also used by the Dominican Order for other purposes. Notably, William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was staged at the camp in the summer of 1926.
Knockadoon Camp in its initial existence continued to flourish until 1933, when the driving force, Fr. Glendon, was transferred to Galway. Between the end of the 1933 season and 1955, only small groups used the camp. With World War 2 also occurring during this period, the camp was fully closed due to rationing of goods during ‘the emergency‘ as it was called in Ireland, and also the risk of the camp being mistaken for a military post.
In the 1980s, some investment at the camp saw the building of concrete structures to replace the existing timber bungalows.
The ‘New Hall‘ was also constructed in 2006, adding more space for activities, and 2023 is seeing refurbishments of the bunkhouses take place.
Today, Knockadoon Camp is used for multiple different camps throughout the summer season, and offers a diverse range of activities and programs for campers, including sports, arts and crafts, drama, music, dance, and outdoor adventures. The camp relies on a dedicated team of volunteers who contribute their time and efforts to make it a success. These volunteers, often former campers themselves, play a vital role in organizing activities, providing guidance, and creating a positive and inclusive atmosphere.
Coláiste Cúram, established in 1975, is a three-week program that has been nurturing a deep appreciation for the Irish language and culture among young people. It has remained an integral part of the camp’s annual summer schedule ever since, except for the years 2020 and 2021 when the camp had to be closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Knockadoon Youth Week (KYW) is another staple of the summer schedule at the camp. This has run since 2011, and now runs over four separate weeks each summer and has 100s of volunteer leaders from all over Ireland, many of them previous attendees of the camp.
Camp Creideamh, established in 2016, is a catholic faith camp for boys and girls which runs for one week in June each year.
Knockadoon Music & Liturgy Course has also been a regular part of the summer in Knockadoon for 40 years. This is a one week residential course for young people involved in church music.
Since 1999, the camp has also been used by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul during the summer to host groups of children.
Over the years, Knockadoon Camp has evolved into a cherished institution, offering young people the chance to immerse themselves in Irish culture, language, and various recreational activities. The camp has had a significant impact on the local community and beyond. It has served as a place for young people to connect, learn, and grow, fostering lifelong friendships and memories. Many campers return year after year, and some become volunteers or leaders, further contributing to the camp’s legacy.
Overall, Knockadoon Camp has a storied history of promoting Irish culture, faith, language, and personal development. Its inclusive and engaging environment has ensured that attendance remains a lifelong memory for the generations of young people from across Ireland who have attended over the years. We are lucky to have it in our locality.
References & Further Information
A special word of thanks to Billy Harrington, who provided many of the photographs and newspaper clippings used in this article